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Interesting snippets from around the globe

Collared cat hacks the neighbourhood

Security researcher Gene Bransfield, with the help of his wife's grandmother's cat, decided to see how many neighbourhood WiFi access points he could map and potentially compromise.

Building a collar loaded with a Spark chip, a WiFi module, a GPS module, and a battery for less than $US100, Coco the cat helped Gene identify WiFi networks around the neighbourhood and then reported back. The goal here was obvious – discover all of the unsecured, or at least poorly-secured, wireless access points around the neighbourhood.

During his journey, Coco killed a rat and also identified dozens of WiFi networks, with four of them using easily-broken WEP security, and another four that had no security at all.

Gene dubbed his collar the "WarKitteh".

WIRED.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

Turning cigarette butts into supercapacitors

Scientists have been labouring for years to find more efficient ways of storing electricity. Now, it seems, researchers in South Korea have found a simple process to turn used cigarette butts into a high performing material that works better than graphene or carbon nanotubes in supercapacitors.

In case you haven't been following the supercapacitor hype, they're devices that store energy as electrical charges rather than chemical reactions, as batteries do. That means supercapacitors can charge and discharge much faster than batteries. But, the reason you don't have a lightning fast supercapacitor in your laptop though, is because they're huge and have therefore, been largely relegated to industrial uses like storing the energy from wind turbines.

Cigarette filters however, look like they can do more than just litter footpaths and corporate parking lots, according to a study published in Nanotechnology.

The material inside cigarette filters is a synthetic fibre called cellulose acetate that, when heated in the presence of nitrogen, turns into a carbon-based material full of pores. The pores contribute to its high surface area, making it good for supercapacitors. When the team tested it for how well it charged and discharged electrons, they found it worked better than commercially available materials as well as graphene and carbon nanotubes.

Perhaps smoking could be good for the environment, in a perverse sort of way.

IOPSCIENCE.IOP.ORG, POPSCI.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

A trans-Arctic Internet cable

Running a telecom cable from London through the Northwest Passage to Tokyo was, for a very long time, impossible: The sea route was solid ice year-round. Now, thanks to rising temperatures, the ice disappears from August to October, and a Canadian company wants to thread a 16,000 kilometre cable through the gap.

Toronto-based Arctic Fibre will soon start surveying the underwater route that would connect the UK with Japan and several spots in between, diversifying the globe's fibre optic data network without relying on land-based cables going through volatile regions of the Middle East, as current connections do.

Telecoms and corporations are clamouring for redundant data connections, still wary of the trouble caused in 2008 when disruptions to the Mediterranean Sea cable slowed or stopped communications across Asia. Also, routes through the Middle East make tempting targets for disruption.

The Arctic Fibre project would avoid this. Aside from terminating points in England, Canada and Japan, the cable would run almost entirely undersea. This, of course, will require elaborate surveying to find a path where the cable won't get snagged by rocks, pulled by tides, or crushed by rock slides.

Undersea surveying for the $US620 million ($NZ775 million) project will begin in the next few months, using side-scan sonar, digital cameras, electromagnetic probes, and core samples to plot a route across the sea floor.

This has all been made possible by global warming.

BUZZFEED.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

The smartphone turns 20

Saturday, 16th August marked the 20th anniversary of the world’s first smartphone, the IBM Simon, going on public sale.

The forerunner to today’s smartphones, Simon took the best technology that the handheld computing world could offer and combined it with a mobile phone to create a device that could do much more than simply make phone calls.

The Simon was the first ever mobile phone to feature a green screen and software apps, using a stylus and touch screen which allowed users to sketch a drawing, update a calendar, write notes, and send and receive faxes via  a 2400bps modem. It weighed half a kilogram and had a battery life of one hour.

Simon retailed for $899 ($NZ1100) and sold approximately 50,000 units.

At the second link below is an animated film from the Science Museum that looks at the rise and rise of the microchip.

BUSINESSWEEK.COM, TECHTIMES.COM, TELEGRAPH.CO.UK
(Aug ‘14)

 

The inventor of pop-up ads is very, very sorry

Pop-up ads have got to be one of the digital world's most hated things, possibly even more so than Internet Explorer. Now, the guy who invented them back in the mid-90s, wants to apologize.

Ethan Zuckerman, the head of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, says that he didn't know what he was bringing into the world when he wrote the code for the first pop-up ad more than two decades ago while working for Tripod.com. Here's what he writes in a fabulous essay on The Atlantic:

At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users' personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser's toolkit: the pop-up ad.

It was a way to associate an ad with a user's page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page's content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they'd bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I'm sorry. Our intentions were good.

The full essay at the link below suggests the Web needs to ditch the ad-based business model once and for all.

I agree.

THEATLANTIC.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

Idiot leaves driver’s seat in self-driving car

Self-driving cars are coming, that's nothing new and people are somewhat nervous about this technology, and that's nothing new either.

But it appears self-driving cars are already here, and one idiot was dumb enough to climb out of the driver’s seat while his car was hurtling down the highway.

The car in question (an Infiniti Q50) had both Active Lane Control and adaptive cruise control both of which essentially turned the Q50 into an autonomous vehicle while at highway speeds.

While impressive, taking yourself out of a position where you can quickly and safely regain control of the car if needed is simply dumb. After watching the video at the link below, it's abundantly clear why people should be nervous about autonomous vehicles. It's not the cars and tech we need to worry about, it's idiots like this guy.

Duh.

MOTORAUTHORITY.COM
(Aug ‘14)

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Order online booze and underwear at the same time.

The future of on-line ordering has arrived in L.A.

Saucey, an alcohol delivery service, has partnered with MeUndies, a Los Angeles-based underwear company for a promotion where customers can order knickers and boxers along with bourbon and beer. Some combinations are just destined to be.

The alcohol and undies are being sold as ‘Sleepover Packs’ that cost between $US40 and $US100, depending on the number of customers.

Each pack includes a fresh pair of underwear, socks, a T-shirt, sunglasses, a hangover-fighting vitamin and your choice of alcohol and mixers, according to the LA Times.

And if you want to order and set your target delivery time between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, at least some of the Sleepover Packs will be delivered by underwear models in nothing but their skivvies, according to KTLA TV.

What could possibly go wrong?

LATIMES.COM, KTLA.COM, SAUCEYAPP.COM, MEUNDIES.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

A paper USB business card

The humble business card still hasn’t been killed off by digital alternatives. Yet, being handed a piece of dead tree with contact details printed on it in ink seems like a veritable antique in this digital age.

swivelCard is a paper business card that is about to make its debut in the U.S. It’s got a spot of patented printing, an embedded chip and some clever perforations to enable a USB stick interface so the business card can be stuck into a USB port and then point the user to a particular webpage.

The webpage you associate with individual swivelCards can also be changed so you could update it with content specific to the person you’ve given a particular swivelCard to. For instance, a wedding photographer or architect could personalise the photo content they showcase to a potential client.

And, since it has a digital interface, the swivelCard also includes the ability to track usage so you can see where your business cards have ended up, and how much people are accessing them. In other words, a paper business card with analytics.

For those without a USB drive, the cards also include NFC and a printed QR code so the data can still be accessed in other ways.

At present, swivelCard is a patent and a prototype and is raising funds on Kickstarter but the promoters have already far exceeded their fundraising target.

They’re offering taster packs of mini versions of their swivelCard for $US29 and $US79 but if you’re after the full deal which includes all your details printed on it, with a design of your choosing, at the time of writing it’s a $US289 ($NZ360) Kickstarter pledge for a pack of 200 swivelCards.

If all goes to plan, the makers are aiming to ship the first packs to backers in October.

Very clever.

KICKSTARTER.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

HTTP error messages, what do they mean?

When browsing the Internet, we all occasionally get HTTP error messages which can be more than a little frustrating. So what do they mean?

The most common error messages are as follows:

HTTP 400:  you are connected to the webserver but the specific page address is incorrect;

HTTP 403:  you do not have permission to view a page, or, it is an automatically generated page not correctly configured for your browser, or, the website does not have a default home page address, or, the web page does not allow directory listing;

HTTP 404:  web page not found. The page is either temporarily unavailable or it has been deleted;

HTTP 405:  web page format not recognised;

HTTP 408/9: the server is busy or it is taking too long to display a web page;

HTTP 410:  the web page no longer exists (unlike a 404 error this normally means it was a time-limited page – a coupon or special offer, etc.;

HTTP 500:  a server problem prevents page from being displayed.

 

Room service robotic butler

If you plan to stay in the high-tech Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California, don't be surprised if you open your door to a 1-metre tall robot carrying extra towels or breakfast. That’ll be A.O.L. Botlr (which is short for "robot butler”, of course).

The Botlr is programmed to assist the hotel's concierge in catering to your requests. The 50-kg machine comes loaded with a 7-inch tablet screen to interact with guests and staff, as well as 4G and WiFi connections so it can call elevators when it needs a ride.

Let's say you pinged front desk to ask for new toiletries. The staff then loads the items into an empty compartment on top of the robot and inputs your floor and room number on the tablet interface. You'll know Botlr's lurking outside the door when it calls up the room's phone.

No cash tips are required. All it asks in return for the service is a tweet with the #meetbotlr hashtag.

Botlr made its Aloft Hotel debut on 20th August for a pilot program. If successful, all 100+ Aloft Hotels could have one to two at their disposal in the near future.

There’s a video at the second link.

MARKETWATCH.COM, TECHCRUNCH.COM, MASHABLE.COM
(Aug ‘14)

 

Murder accused asked Siri where to hide the body

Asking the iPhone’s virtual assistant Siri ‘where to hide a body’ used to be one of Siri’s little jokes. She used to give suggestions but not anymore. Why not?

We’re not sure but it could be related to a Florida man, Pedro Bravo, accused of murdering his friend Christian Aguilar and burying the body in nearby woods in September of 2012.

Records from his phone, which were presented to the jury at his trial, show he mentioned to Siri "I need to hide my roommate," to which she gave her amusing but possibly useful "joke answer”, seen above.

Perhaps even more damningly, the phone's location data also blows up Bravo's alibi, while other data indicates the flashlight was turned on 9 times and used for over 48 minutes on the night in question. It doesn't take a virtual assistant to figure out what that might be all about.

The moral of the story: if you are going to commit a crime, don’t ask Siri for help.

BUZZFEED.COM, INDEPENDENT.CO.UK
(Aug ‘14)

 

The Apollo 11 flight plan

Apollo11.png

45 years ago, after months of preparation, Apollo 11 blasted off on its now-legendary mission to the moon. But what exactly does it take to send three men into the great, vacuous unknown? See for yourself.

This 353-page document (at the second link below) is the entire Apollo 11 flight plan in all its scientific glory. And if it gets a little confusing it's because this is one of those rare cases where, yes, it actually is rocket science.

The flight plan for Apollo 11 was a minute-by-minute time line of activities for the mission crew – Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Mission Control in Houston.

The flight was launched 16 July 1969. Touchdown on the moon took place, as scheduled, on 20 July, 102 hours, 47 minutes, and 11 seconds after launch from Cape Kennedy. The astronauts spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon, and returned to Earth on 24 July.

HQ.NASA.GOV, ARCHIVES.GOV, SCRIBD.COM
(July ‘14)

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